Lead Story

New York Newsday reported in April that a 46-year-old Worcester, Massachusetts, man inexplicably began speaking with a French accent immediately after he was involved in an automobile accident last year. At the recent annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology Dr. Majis Moonis said that about two dozen cases of “foreign accent syndrome” have been reported in this century and that the condition is thought to be caused by a change in the brain circuit involved with the motor control that affects the vocal cords.

The Litigious Society

In March the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver dismissed a civil lawsuit by Merrill Chamberlain, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of an Albuquerque, New Mexico, police officer. Chamberlain had sued the Albuquerque Police Department and the city, claiming that he wouldn’t have committed the murder if the officer had not allowed him to surreptitiously gain access to his handgun or if the officer had been wearing a bulletproof vest.

In April Scott Abrams, 27, filed a $2 million lawsuit against the owners and managers of an apartment building in Arlington, Virginia, for injuries he suffered in 1991 when he was struck by lightning while sitting on the roof of the building during an electrical storm. He said the defendants were negligent in maintaining the rooftop and should have provided, among other things, warning signs and brighter paint. When struck, Abrams was sitting on a ledge on the roof with his feet in a puddle.

In August Anna Lilienthal, 63, filed a lawsuit against the city of Simi Valley, California, for injuries suffered at the city’s Fourth of July celebration when a sky diver missed his target and landed on her.

In March the Wyoming Supreme Court revived Richard Osborn’s lawsuit on a technicality, sending back for trial his claim that a video store defrauded him. Osborn said he bought the X-rated Belle of the Ball based on its package, which featured a photo of actress Busty Belle, but he later discovered that she was on-screen for only 8 or 9 of the video’s 60-plus minutes. Osborn seeks $50,000 for “pain and suffering,” a refund of the $29.95 purchase price, and $55.79 in reimbursement for medicine he needed for an asthma attack he says was brought on by the stress of not seeing more of Ms. Belle.

The Boston Globe reported in April that former Red Sox pitcher Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd threatened to sue the team for not inviting him to spring training this year. His lawyer said that in view of the team’s mediocre pitching prospects for the coming season he could find “no apparent baseball reason for [the team’s] rejection of [Boyd’s] overtures.”

In February a federal judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed a lawsuit filed by Michael A. Johnson, who’s serving time in Lorton Reformatory. Johnson was suing for $12,500 because the prison store had charged him $6 for a $5.80 book of 20 29-cent stamps.

Kenneth Bruckner of Gering, Nebraska, filed a lawsuit against the Presbyterian/Saint Luke’s Medical Center in Denver in February, claiming that the cleanser used to disinfect a toilet seat was highly toxic and had caused him permanent burns, neurological injuries, and urological and sexual dysfunction. Said Bruckner’s attorney, “What’s the world coming to if it’s not safe to sit on the toilet and read the paper?”

Latest Messages Received

In March in Port Saint Lucie, Florida, four Christian pastors and two parishioners performed an exorcism of an oak tree just off Interstate 95. It has long been known in the community that a mass murderer had hanged two people from the tree in 1977, but more recently two kids had reported being chased away from the tree by people in hoods shouting, “We want your blood.” Instead of razing the tree, the property owner elected to have it exorcised and to erect a cross nearby.

In January in Jerusalem the influential rabbi Yosef Ginsberg published a biblical commentary authorizing Israelis who queue up for services to use force if necessary to resist the efforts of people cutting in line.

Cody Judy, 27, charged by police with holding a Mormon Church official hostage in February in Salt Lake City, predicted in April that God would send earthquakes, eruptions, and pestilence in retaliation for his arrest and that law enforcement officials would experience “baldness to your heads and a curse on your private parts.”

Least Competent Person

Seattle, Washington, police arrested a 27-year-old man in April after he attempted to deposit a check into his account at a Washington Mutual Bank office. According to a teller, he was the same man who had robbed the branch two days earlier.

Good News

In April in Los Angeles B.R. Chavez, a 77-year-old man who said he was sick of riding vandalized buses, made a citizen’s arrest of two youths, ages 18 and 15, who had started to spray-paint the bus he was on. Chavez flashed a card with a drawing of an eagle on it and announced that the boys were under arrest. The driver signaled a police car, and the boys went quietly. The older boy was sentenced to three days in jail plus two years’ probation and 30 hours of graffiti-removal service.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Shawn Belschwender.